Greed vs. belief? ‘Immoral’ accumulations during two Hindu festivals
Cora Gaebel (University of Cologne)
Paper short abstract:
Religious festivals offer business opportunities for ritual specialists, who try to benefit from the religious needs of the attending devotees and thereby accumulate wealth. Devotees, in contrast, strive to accumulate and share religious values such as merit, blessings, and sanctified objects.
Paper long abstract:
Religious festivals are not only religious events. They also offer business opportunities for ritual specialists and temple servants. To demonstrate this statement, two Hindu festivals celebrated in Puri (Odisha, East India) have been chosen as ethnographic examples: the Renewal of the Deities—the ritual renewal of the wooden images of Puri’s presiding deities, celebrated every other decade—and the annual Chariot Festival, a public presentation of the deities attended by millions of devotees. In the context of these festivals, the concept of sharing has to be considered from a new perspective: deities provide the values exchanged on a religious marketplace. Often, temple servants act as intermediaries between deities, as producers, and devotees, as customers. Some of these temple servants rather altruistically promote the sharing of the divine values. Yet, many devotees accuse temple servants of profit orientation: financial gain is not regarded as an adequate goal in the context of these (religious) festivals. Although the accumulation of wealth is one of four traditional goals, in religious settings, wealth is only acceptable if shared; it should not be accumulated. Devotees strive for accumulations of a less material quality. They visit the festivals to amass religious values such as spiritual merit and the deities’ blessings. Some devotees gather as many sanctified objects as possible to later store them in their household shrines and/or share the accumulated objects with relatives, friends, and neighbors. Through these objects, merit and blessings can be shared with those devotees who could not attend the festivals themselves.
The sharing economy: sharing with whom, sharing what and sharing for what purpose?